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The Working Life of Linda Fabiani MSP
W/E 31st October 2004

Following on from the weekend’s events in Strathaven, Monday brought some American visitors to the Parliament. Isabel was originally from Strathaven and emigrated to West Virginia with her family when very young. She checks all the doings of Parliament on the Website and was really looking forward to seeing the building finished at last. Thankfully, she wasn’t disappointed!

Italy has a new Ambassador to the UK, and he visited Edinburgh on Monday. First of all I attended a lecture he gave at Edinburgh University on ‘Globalisation and Devolution’ – Italy is currently discussion greater devolution for their regions and the Ambassador has been studying the Scottish and Welsh models. An interesting question and answer session followed the lecture, with questions ranging from the make-up of the UN Security Council and whether Broadcasting should be a ‘reserved’ matter. I must say it seems highly unlikely to me that Senor Berlusconi would be willing to devolve power away from the centre when it comes to the Italian media! In the evening the Italian Consul in Edinburgh hosted a welcome reception for the new Ambassador – loads of interesting members of the Italian community: Sergio Casci whose film ‘American Cousins’ has just been nominated for Scottish Bafta award; Giovanni Benedetti who tells me that since his daughter won the award for Young Classical Musician of the Year and then played at the opening of the Parliament on 9th October, he’s known only as ‘Nicola’s father’. She was spectacular though!.

Most of Tuesday was spent in Easterhouse, Glasgow with other members of the Communities Committee. It’s the pre-legislative consultation period for the Charity Reform Bill, and we were taking evidence from community activists and representatives of charitable organisations – from private schools to local youth groups. Generally legislation is welcomed because bad publicity about a couple of charities scams over the last couple of years has dented public faith in giving. Some worries though about how ‘charity’ will be defined and how to strike the balance between regulation and bureaucracy.

Wednesday was crazy time! Communities Committee first thing – evidence taking about Building Regulations. Rushed from there with Patrick Harvie, Green MSP, to cast our vote for Trade Justice outside the Parliament public entrance. Loads of folk there from all over the country, all really concerned that whilst the Western world consumes and consumes and consumes, our less fortunate neighbours get pretty well shafted! Elaine C. Smith was headlining the event. I’m pretty sure I’ve cast that vote many times over the last couple of months at various events, but another one won’t hurt. {photo casting vote}

Members of the Lanarkshire Trade Justice Movement visited my office later in the day, and told me that yet again John Swinney tried to claim Aberfeldy as the first Fair Trade Town in Scotland! Actually, both Strathaven and Aberfeldy declared on the same day. Also at the rally were some lads and lasses from the newly formed Fair Trade Group at St. John Ogilvie School in Hamilton, so they too visited my office and squashed into the ‘contemplation pod’ for a photo – how many schoolchildren fit in an MSP’s window seat? Quite a few.

I wasn’t in Chamber on Wednesday afternoon for the Drugs Debate. I heard that the Sunday Mail had a go at those of us who weren’t there, giving the impression that we weren’t interested, that we were away lounging about somewhere. However, some of us were meeting with a delegation of ‘young carers’ who were visiting the parliament and attending the member’s debate after decision time at 5 o’clock. Youngsters who take responsibility for looking after other family members – perhaps a physically disabled mother, or a father with a dependency of some type. The needs of these youngsters have to be addressed, but there is cross-party consensus that more support is required, and some councils are already innovative in their approach. A couple of months ago I had a meeting with the Social Work Directorate of North Lanarkshire Council about adults with learning difficulties. I was impressed at the commitment of the officers and what they were doing to help those in need fit in with their communities, and again that particular Council’s ongoing work for young carers impressed all MSPs who were present at the meeting. 

I used to share an office with Colin Campbell when he was MSP from 1999-2003 and since he retired I’ve really missed him. So, it was great to see him on Wednesday evening in the garden lobby of the Parliament – launching his book! He had a badge on – “Colin Campbell – Author”. Said he was more chuffed about that than anything else – understandable. I haven’t got round to reading it yet, but it’s about  E A Mackintosh, the poet of the Highland Division during WWI.

I thought Wednesday was busy, but Thursday was even more so. Three sets of visitors, a debate to close and two parliamentary questions to pose to the Executive in the afternoon. The debate was about housing – we keep having these debates about how much better everything is, but not there yet in my opinion. Yes, the Executive has good intentions, and some of their housing legislation is worthwhile, but only if it’s properly resourced. With the best will in the world supplying 5,500 social rented houses per year when 18,000 are disappearing through the right-to-buy just doesn’t add up, and I’ll never understand why they chose to extend the right-to-buy to housing association tenants who never had it before. As I said in the debate, giving people the RIGHT to a house, doesn’t actually give them the house itself, so self-congratulation is not yet in order.

One of the oral questions that I put to the Health Minister needs much more investigation. I am told by a constituent that Lanarkshire Health Board now offers cash incentive to patients to go for private treatment. It only pays for part of the treatment though, so again it looks like those who can afford to get potentially faster treatment. Andy Kerr professed to know nothing about it, so I’m still digging on that one.

A local day on Friday meeting University students in Lanarkshire who are doing a paper on the Scottish Parliament and how its legislative processes and working practices differ from Westminster. It’s funny how as you get older time moves so fast: I was quoting the 1997 General Election and the Scottish Parliament elections in 1999 like they were just yesterday, and then being told that these students didn’t really remember that time because they were just into their teens!

I really enjoy these sessions, and am optimistic that because Holyrood is so close to home and MSPs so accessible, the younger generations will have a much more proactive role in politics in the future.

Down to Kilmarnock on Saturday for the AGM of Stresswatch Scotland, an organisation which gives support, mainly through self-help groups and telephone counselling, to those who suffer mental disorders – from basic stress, through to severe agoraphobia, compulsive behaviour and phobias. They have been active for 40 years now, and their founder member – Frances Elder – is still on the Management Committee. Frankie won’t mind my mentioning her by name as she featured in a Sunday Post article recently about the organisation. They were saying that the organisation has actually become a victim of its own success in a way, because there are many more services now available and GPs and hospitals now make referrals to specialist services. People are much more open now about being sufferers and there isn’t the same stigma attached – this is down to people like Frances Elder who stuck their heads above the parapet when it wasn’t easy to do so, and insisted that the rights of sufferers be recognised and appropriate treatment given. It’s a smashing organisation and I’m delighted to be a patron.

Sunday was ‘catch-up’ day. Not a lot of time during the week to call constituents for up-dates or to keep on top of all the emails, so Sunday was it. Rounded off well though at a wedding reception for some friends who got married in Jamaica – congratulations to Margaret Fox and Richard Park. Their wedding photos were tremendous – Saltire in every photo, on that beautiful beach on Jamaica. Dream time …

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